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It’s summertime in beautiful BC and we should be talking about fun in the sun. With fires raging, high temperatures, drought, and a resurgence of COVID, we’ve instead got contingency planning on our minds. Every business should have a plan to guide them through an emergency, and the current state of affairs is a good reminder to make sure it’s up to date. As the saying goes, hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Prepared BC has a number of resources on their website. For small businesses, there’s this guide as well as a plan template. Reading through it, we realized that there are several ways that we can help our clients manage and recover from a crisis.

  1. If you host your website with us, it’s automatically backed up every two weeks to an off-site location. That means that we can keep your site online even if your operations are disrupted. If you have back-end info stored, like customer email addresses that might be added to frequently, we also offer a daily back-up service.
  2. We can help you communicate with your customers by quickly changing your website. Changing the contact phone number from your office to your cell, for example, or redirecting the message form to a different email address, will allow customers to continue ordering products or making appointments for services. If your site includes a database of customers or suppliers, we can also email them directly to keep them up to date on your situation.
  3. You may also want to pause your regular advertising campaign, or start a new one to quickly boost revenue. Perhaps you were able to escape a wildfire with a truck load of products and are prepared to sell them at a discount in your new location. Or maybe you have a mobile business and want to find customers in a different community. A search engine marketing (SEM) campaign could keep you going.
  4. When you are back to business as usual, an ad blitz, say SEM, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, will let all of your customers know, and maybe even attract some new ones.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who hasn’t been impacted and you see opportunities to give back, we can also help you make the most of your goodwill. If you’re donating a product, service, or your time, we can help you get the word out. Sharing your good deeds can inspire others to help out too.

 

 

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Every once in a while, a disruption occurs in some sector. Someone actually builds a better mousetrap or creates a new market by convincing them that their teeth should be as white as a tissue. Affected businesses pivot, change their designs and marketing plans, and relative stability prevails once again.

Then came a global disruption, the likes of which hadn’t been experienced by generations. We all know how that impacted us, our families, our “normal” activities. We adjusted. Businesses adjusted. The world worked together to find a solution, and now things seem to be getting back to the way they were. Except…

During that disruption, a shift occurred that affected many in profound ways. They started to question their life goals and what they were willing to give up to achieve those goals. The scales were tipped in favor of life in the work-life balance we sought, and perspectives changed.

This CBC article talks about a woman who quit her job rather than returning to the office. There’s already a trend emerging in the U.S. showing there are many like her, and the trend is expected to develop in Canada too.

There’s also a strengthening movement to get rid of the traditional five-day, 40-hour work week and growing evidence that fewer hours and more flexible work schedules benefit employees without hurting employers.

A study in Iceland (detailed in this Forbes article by Jack Kelly) tested shorter workdays without cutting pay. In the majority of cases, productivity remained the same or improved, while worker well-being increased significantly. The results of a similar experiment by Microsoft Japan had even more dramatic results: employees were happier and 40% more productive.

A number of countries are now testing the move to fewer hours and more flexibility in when those hours are worked. There are a number of theories about why we can do more in less time. One is that we’re more focused and task oriented when time is short. We have more time to take care of personal matters, so we don’t need to use work time for those things. We’re more rested, and therefore more productive when we are at work.

It’s certainly an interesting proposition, and one that likely needed a major disruption to be seriously considered. Here are two more articles on the topic.

The Conversation

The Atlantic

 

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If you haven’t planned your summer holiday yet, it’s time. Everyone needs to get away from work once in a while to rest and re-energize. You may think of vacations as folly, but there are definite benefits. Your physical and mental health will improve. So will your family relationships. Plus, you’ll be more creative and more productive when you return.

If your concern about losing business is what is making you hesitant, we have a solution for you. Let your website do the work for those few weeks. A combo SEO-SEM campaign will set you up for months after you get back. Here’s how it works.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) takes a while to kick in and needs monitoring to keep improving. It’s a long-term strategy that every business should invest in because the payoff is so much greater than the cost. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, SEO is not something you only do when you’re building a new website. It’s not just about key words, and it’s not something you can have done and then leave alone.

Search engines like Google change their ranking formulas. Competitors come and go. New buzz words get created. Trends change, like the move from typing to voice-based search, which is emerging right now. Optimizing means keeping an eye on those factors and more, and making adjustments as needed to keep you on the first page of results.

Search Engine Marketing, on the other hand, starts to work much sooner. These pay-per-click ads may still need to be refined in the early days, but there’s really no delay in getting results. Search advertisements are also more visible, displaying above and often below the organic listings stemming from SEO.

So, here’s your get-away plan. Call us a few weeks before your vacation. We’ll ask you some questions about your products and services, your geographic market, your main competitors, and your customer profile. Then all you have to do is make sure there’s someone to answer the phone or process orders while you’re away. Leave the rest to us.

We’ll set up that Search Engine Marketing campaign that will start showing results while you’re in your laying on the beach. Then we’ll optimize your website, so those results will magnify in the weeks after you return. Then, we can reduce or even stop your SEM campaign, while the SEO feeds you a steady stream of business.

I hear you. Now you’re worried about taking a vacation AND spending on SEM and SEO. Think of it as an investment that pays big dividends. When Mr. Lawn hired us they weren’t getting any inquiries from their website about lawn installations. After we started their SEM campaign, they got 604 inquiries in one month. That led to 29 quote requests, 11 sales, and more than $20,000 in revenue.

Our SEO program for Mountain Ridge Log homes increased their number of monthly site visitors from 63 to 466 in six months. Wholesale Hydroponics went from 216 site visitors to 1,647 in nine months, and was up at 2,565 a year after that.

 

So, you don’t need to sweat – well, not from worry anyway. Give us a call, or fill out our Discovery form, and then start packing.

 

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Canada’s economy is recovering quite well and expected to continue to improve over the next few years. As things begin to normalize, it might be time to think about some of the business challenges that existed before the pandemic that haven’t gone away. One of those is the aging population and the strain that will put on businesses looking for experienced workers. While no one wants to admit that they have an age bias, many people do. Won’t they get sick more often? Will they be able to learn our computer systems? These are the types of questions that make recruiters reluctant to hire older workers. The fact is though, that hiring and retaining older employees has a number of advantages.

They stay with you longer – Older vs younger adults have different reasons for working. Younger workers are looking to climb the ladder to higher positions and higher pay, and they really don’t care if they have to change companies to achieve that. Older adults who chose not to retire, enjoy working, they find purpose and comradery in the workplace, and prefer stability over lofty goals. Considering the time and expense needed for new hires, you want them to stick around.

They take fewer sick days – Most studies show that older workers call in sick less often than younger ones. They also tend to be on time more often. Older workers are also less likely to have a workplace injury.

They are more collaborative and need less supervision – Older workers have learned from experience that collaboration pays off for everyone. They don’t need to be in charge, and are more focused on getting the job done.

Age mixed teams are more productive – The buzz word is “cognitive diversity” and applies to factors other than age as well, but there is clear evidence that multi-generational teams are more productive than those of similar age.

They have enhanced skills – Age generally increases judgement, knowledge, and decision making. While short-term memory may decline in middle age, intellectual capabilities remain up to age 70 and longer. Sought after attributes like communication and leadership skills, also continue to grow with age.

Mentoring works both ways – While older workers can share their knowledge and skills with younger ones, they are also still quite capable of learning from their younger colleagues. The combination of years of experience with new fangled technology is a powerful thing.

While this may all seem theoretical, our own team at Internet Advertising is a case study that proves these benefits. Joanne won’t tell us exactly how old she is, but she’s old! And our youngest team member is still a pup. Time and time again, we’ve quickly solved a problem that has lingered unresolved with another firm. Maybe we’re just smarter, but we believe that our success comes from the collaboration of three generations of ingenuity.

What problem can we solve for you?

 

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Recent statistics show that 75% of BC residents, 60% of all Canadians and 44% of United States citizens have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Restrictions are easing and many of us are very much looking forward to long-awaited visits with family and friends. While the pandemic situation is abating, pretty much all prognosticators agree that there is no going back to what we used to call “normal.”

Big events in our lives change us. Big global events change us all. While we expect a lot of social activity over the summer months, and with that a boost to those who cater to road-trippers and outdoor enthusiasts, by fall the “new normal” is going to set in. What does that look like? Here’s what we predict.

Convenience will Rule

While no one was very happy about being basically under house arrest, the conveniences we discovered are going to stick. Particularly in the fall and winter, consumers are going to continue to take advantage of conveniences like ordering groceries online and having medical appointments by phone. If you started offering a more convenient way to buy your products or services, you’re going to want to plan for that to become long-term. If you haven’t yet changed your ways, you might want to consider doing so soon.

Bubbles will Include “Go-To” Businesses

The notion of “bubbles” of people initiated as a safety measure against spreading the virus will stay in people’s minds. This is a great opportunity to build the kind of customer loyalty that pays off time and time again, over years to come. Stay in touch with any clients or customers you’ve had over the past year like they were your mother. Send them birthday cards, great discount offers, a newsletter, or whatever else is appropriate for your company – but stay in touch, and stay top of mind. This is particularly important if you provide a service or deliver directly to someone’s home.

Volume Sales will Trump Price Hikes

A lot of businesses have been significantly set-back by the pandemic and now that folks are out and about again, it’s tempting to raise prices to offset those losses. Our advice is don’t. The cost of living has risen for all of the basics and things like rent increases that have been put off are going to hit hard. Take a look at your financial situation to see if you can avoid charging more by attracting more customers instead. Then get your existing customers involved in adding to your base. Use your email and social platforms to “make a deal” with them; e.g., help you gain a 20% increase in customers and you won’t raise prices for at least a year.

Local will Work, if…

The shop-local sentiment will remain valuable, but you’ll have to offer value to take advantage of it. If I can buy it on Amazon cheaper and have it delivered to my door for free, I’m not going to buy it locally. But, if I know who you are; know that you support the community; know that you offer quality products for only a few cents more, then I will buy from you. Get yourself into the local newspaper. Tell your story on social media. Post pictures of your staff (and if they’re family, all the better!) Sponsor a popular fundraiser for a local charity. Advertise as a locally owned and operated business.

Remote and Flexible Work Hours are Here to Stay

There are benefits to embracing work-from-home and flexible work schedules, so don’t be too anxious to get everyone back around the same table. Once a week in-person meetings might be beneficial to keep everyone moving in the same direction, but being too stringent about when and where work gets done may well decrease productivity and morale.

If you need help to offer more online services, stay in touch with customers, or design and implement a promotional campaign, just give us a call!

 

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Bob and Henry are sitting next to each other on an airplane. They start to chat and Bob finds out that Henry is the head of marketing for Juicy Fruit gum. Bob asks why Henry does so much advertising. He sees the ads everywhere. Surely, the gum is so well known now that advertising is a waste of money. Henry explains with a question. This plane is cruising at 550 miles an hour, 30,000 feet in the air; but, what do you think would happen if the pilot turned off the engines?

We all know the answer but still question the value of advertising when business is soaring, so here are five good reasons to advertise when you don’t think you need to.

  1. You Can Afford to Invest – Investing when things are going well, means things will continue to go well – you’ll have enough revenue to keep advertising and keep revenue high. That’s a great cycle to be in. If you wait until times are tough before you start advertising, it’s hard to find the cash, and you have to start building awareness all over again.
  2. Conversion Timeline – Following on #1, customers don’t buy from you after seeing one ad. The adage is seven impressions to make an impact. So, waiting to advertise means a long period of nothingness before the ads start to pay off. Very few businesses can afford a long period of nothingness.
  3. Top of Mind – Even customers who know your brand and products will forget about you if they aren’t reminded pretty regularly. There are always new competitor and product ads that are trying to steal your clients. You need to remind your customers of why you should still be their top choice.
  4. New Customers – There is never a bad time to increase your customer base; and as well known as you think you are, there are always new customers to be had. Your ads also increase the effectiveness of word-of-mouth referrals, search engine results, and other forms of awareness.
  5. Brand Loyalty – More than ever, what you stand for is important to building and maintaining brand loyalty. When business is going well, you can use some of your ad spend to tell your audience more about your brand’s values, your efforts at inclusion, environmental stewardship, and other ways that you are supporting your customer community.

So, don’t turn off the engines! Give us a call and keep your business soaring.

 

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There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Now, you just want to get through the tunnel as fast as you can. Yes folks, things are looking up. In BC, it’s expected that by early July, everyone over 12 years of age who wants one, will have received at least one shot of the COVID 19 vaccine. If we all do our part, restrictions will start to ease, and we’ll be able to look forward to more in-person activities.

So, to get you through that tunnel and into the light, here are four pretty quick ways to start boosting sales.

An email campaign – Sending offers directly to customers who already know your brand is an effective way to spark sales. Compile a list of your customers’ email addresses, think about a great deal you can offer, and give us a call. Letting your existing customers know that you’re still in business and thanking them for their support with an exclusive discount is a great way to bring them back into the fold.

A local marketing campaign – A marketing campaign targeting your local area can work wonders whether you are offering in-store or pickup/delivery sales. A localized advertising blitz combined with a good offer and an appeal to support local businesses is a sure-fire marketing trifecta. We’ll help you pick the best advertising platforms, create appealing ad copy, and manage the campaign for you.

A BOGO sale – Buy one get one sales remain very popular, and are particularly effective for any summer products for families because no one wants to spend time listening to the kids fight over stuff. So, what have you got that’s sure to start a fight? Let us know and we’ll get word out.

Short expiry coupons – Every time you make a purchase at Michaels, your receipt is a discount coupon on your next purchase, if it’s made within a certain period of time. This is a fabulous way to bring shoppers back into the store or online shop within weeks of their initial purchase.

Refer a friend deals – Sharing is caring! Offer your existing customers a deal they can’t refuse in exchange for the email address of a friend. To make sure the friend is real, be sure to offer them a deal as well. With the new email addresses, you can do another email campaign.

Need more ideas? Just give us a call. Our creatives are ready for a challenge!

 

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The signs of spring are all around us now with blooms popping up and the sun lingering on after dinner. That means it’s time to give your website the Tulip Test to make sure you’re ready to take full advantage of the summer spending cycle. Tulip is an acronym for trust, user experience, load time, information, and path, all important aspects of turning site visitors into buyers.

Trust continues to be one of the most critical factors in keeping a visitor on your site long enough to make a purchasing decision and then actually following through with it. Make sure that the address bar for your site shows the lock symbol telling visitors that your site is secure. Replacing low quality images, updating the design, and posting recent testimonials, are great ways to let customers know you are a legitimate and active business.

There are several ways that you can improve the user experience, but we’ll focus on two here. The first is helping the user make a decision to buy, and the second is letting them buy as easily as possible. Think about what you sell and what the key decision-making criteria are for the customer. For example, for clothing it’s probably colour, size, and your return policy. For services it’s usually the qualifications and experience of the provider. Make sure that your descriptions include those criteria. Once a customer makes a decision to buy, you need to finish the sales transaction fast. That means paring down the steps to the absolute minimum. This is not the time to ask how they found you or if they’d like to leave a review. Get the payment and delivery information and finalize the sale.

Page loading time is still a major factor, with some estimating that three seconds is one second too long to hold the attention of a would-be buyer. With the huge increase in people shopping on their smartphones, a fast loading, responsive design is a must. If you haven’t checked lately, look at your site on your phone. How quickly does the home page load? Can you easily navigate to a product or services page?

Information about you and your business as well as the products and services you sell is one of the trust factors. Make sure that you show a physical address and give customers at least one way to get in touch with you. “About Us” pages have a purpose, so use them to address some of the decision-making criteria.

The last letter is P for path. The path is the route that you want customers to take from the landing page to the check-out. Is it obvious? Can a visitor easily find the product or service they’re looking for? If you sell online, then the check-out path is key, if not, do you tell customers how they can safely purchase or obtain your services in person?

So, how does your site fare? If you need a little spring make-over, give us a call.

 

 

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Targeted online advertising has been so effective for so long that it’s no wonder that other forms of marketing have fallen by the wayside. But, like many things in life, 2020 changed the landscape for advertising.

Privacy concerns have risen so high that even Google is backing off tracking your every online move. That means that it’s not going to be so easy to target your preferred audiences, or have an ad show up during a potential customer’s buying cycle. You know how when you look at shoes at the Nike store, suddenly there are shoe ads on every page you visit? Ya, that’s not going to be so easy for advertisers anymore.

Of course, Google and others are looking at ways to work around the privacy issue – things like consent and opting in to “a more personalized experience.” Still, privacy wasn’t the only issue of 2020, so it’s time to rethink your ad mix anyway.

While some are predicting that out-of-home advertising will see a big boost in return on investment later this year and next (as more people get vaccinated and spend more time out and about), that return is really hard to track. So, the other prediction that we’re more excited about is the use of direct marketing.

Direct marketing is delivering marketing material directly to your audience, rather than placing ads on other platforms. It takes the form of emails, blog or product subscriptions, postal mail, loyalty programs, and the like. But to make it work in 2021, your content has to be more than a typical “we’re great” ad; and, if you can personalize that content, you’ll get a much better return on investment.

Tim Horton’s recently made a pivot that will no doubt payoff big time. Their iconic “Roll up the Rim” promotion went totally digital this year AND everybody was a winner. That’s the perfect combination of strategy and appeal. You can bet that more people than ever now have the rewards app on their smartphone, and that means that Timmy has a lot more information about them. Yes, there have been concerns with how much info Tim is collecting, and they may well have to back off a bit themselves. But still, a great tactic for increasing their direct contact with consumers.

So, how can you set up a direct mail campaign? Start with your existing customers. Take a look at the information that you routinely collect, and whether or not you can easily query and analyze that data. Think about ways to use that information for direct marketing. For example, if you have postal addresses, you could send out notices for advanced shopping on upcoming sales, announcing new products, or even a simple thank you to reinforce your brand.

If you can use your data to personalize direct mail, even better. Like an email saying, “We noticed you’ve purchased 12 air filters in the past year. Use this code to get a pack of 12 for 25% less.”

Letting customers know that you see them as individuals and appreciate their business will not only spark sales sooner, but also build long-term loyalty.

 

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Give people a reason to share. Create a reason for users to tell you about themselves by offering them better experiences and new ways to engage with your content. Explore offers and products, like subscriptions, trials, memberships, loyalty programs, newsletters, and more to increase engagement and add value.

Direct mail is growing exponentially. People are spending more time than ever at home, and businesses are tapping into this with physical touchpoints, such as postcards. As the founder and CEO of a direct mail tech company, I’ve seen this firsthand. Our 2020 numbers are record-setting. Expect to see more ads in your mailbox in 2021.

Some brands promoted environmental awareness, while others focused on human rights,  poverty, race, and gender inequalities.

Businesses that pursued and publicly defined a clear and consistent purpose did better in 2020 than brands that did not articulate a clear purpose.

That’s not surprising. A recent study by the Zeno Group found that consumers are four times more likely to purchase from the brand when a brand follows and articulates a strong purpose.

They are also 4.5 times more likely to recommend your brand.

In mid-2020, Google announced a new ranking factor called “Core Web Vitals,” set to debut in May 2021.

Core Web Vitals are designed to measure how users experience a web page’s speed, responsiveness, and visual stability. They measure the time it takes for the main content to load (ideal is 2.5 seconds or faster), the time it takes for a page to become interactive (less than 100 ms is ideal), and the amount of unexpected layout shift in the visual content of the page (ideal is less than 0.1).

Google believes that when a web page loads quickly, is interactive quickly, and the layout doesn’t shift much, people will generally be happy, improving peoples’ search experience.

Page speed times have always been important. But they’re becoming even more important in 2021.

If you want to compete with established businesses in your target market, you’ll have to focus some of your efforts on ensuring that your website design is optimized and performs well.

 

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It’s officially spring and that means gardeners are getting excited. Several of our team members are among them, and that got us thinking about this analogy. Building your website is like planting a seed on the internet. It’s just the first step, and there are many more steps to take before you can enjoy your harvest.

Watering is the attention your website needs on a regular basis. Sites that never change just don’t perform as well as those that are kept fresh. Add a new image of your latest completed project, or a new product offering. If you have a blog, make sure you are adding posts at least once a month.

Thinning the seedlings is counterintuitive for new gardeners, but the pros will tell you that it’s essential. Removing the sprouts around your healthiest plants gives them room to thrive, and leaving them to compete with each other results in less, not more. More information on your website doesn’t translate into better sales. Focus on your best sellers and the most important information for your customers’ decision-making.

Weeding is getting rid of plants that you don’t want growing in your internet garden, and you don’t know what’s growing until you look. Search for your business and for individuals who are spokespersons or in senior management positions. Make sure that your address and phone number are correct on all of those directories that come up. See what reviewers are saying about you. Find out if perceived bad acts by individuals associated with your business are having an impact on your reputation. If you find things you don’t want to get any bigger, we can help with the weeding.

Fertilizing gives your garden nutrients to feed your plants. It helps deepen the roots, strengthen the stalks, and encourages more blooming. And the analogy continues in that there are many different kinds of fertilizer to choose from, depending on your crop, phase of growing, and environment. One is search engine marketing (SEM). This is for your early seedlings, getting visitors to your site when your status in the search engines is still low. Then there’s search engine optimization, an all-purpose fertilizer that provides basic nutrients – visitors to your website. If your target market is likely to be on social media, social media marketing (SMM) is your fertilizer of choice. When your business starts to bloom, let us set up a review tunnel for you. Those testimonials fertilize the blooming plants to produce bigger fruit.

Harvesting is the best part! You hard work pays off. Like mounds of zucchini, you have tons of green in the bank.

Now share your bounty! Sharing in the way of special discounts for your most loyal customers, or donating to charity, builds loyalty and goodwill that will keep your internet garden growing for years to come.

Happy hoe-hoe-hoeing!

 

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In the past, creating a feasible action plan based on our business knowledge and the information available to us might only need a few minor adjustments along the way to remain relevant and viable. What we learned in 2020 was that sometimes things change radically and very quickly. Scenario planning is a way to generate “if this, then that” backup plans.

Typically in scenario planning, you generate one better-than-expected scenario and one worse-than-expected scenario. That is helpful, but it may be of greater benefit to create additional scenarios that you think or even feel, could throw a wrench into your original plan.

So, back to our example of your high-priced shampoo (Part 3, Part 4), one scenario might be that not only does your marketing tactic succeed in expanding your customer base, with most people working again, but saving money by working from home, many of your other higher-priced items also get very popular. What would you need to do to increase production, order processing, and delivery to take advantage of this boom in business?

Now, what if the ad campaign didn’t work? What if people stopped buying all of your higher-priced items? Could you create a slightly different “new and improved” product at a lower price? Could you find a new market selling to salons instead of direct to consumer?

Scenarios are not meant to cover highly unlikely total disasters. That’s a waste of your time and energy. A scenario-based backup plan can really help though to create a more creative mindset and prepare you for necessary pivots. For example, perhaps you’ve started to become concerned about a supplier. There’s nothing concrete, but you just have a feeling that a problem could be brewing. Having a strategy to deal with that if something does go wrong, will allow you to quickly resolve the issue and take the worry off your mind.

So, think about potential better-than-expected-scenarios, as well as two or three negative developments that you wouldn’t be too surprised by. You don’t need to create detailed plans for scenarios at this point, but have a strategy in place so you can start to implement it quickly if need be.

 

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Continued:
Planning Part 1 – Setting Goals and Objectives
Planning Part 2 – Environmental Scanning
Planning Part 3 – Consider Your Customers
Planning Part 4 – Timing Strategies and Tactics
Planning Part 5 – Scenarios

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We’ve been working our way through a planning process, and you can get caught up here. You’ve taken your objectives and put them into a logical order based on your long-term goal. Now it’s time to create a more detailed plan for the next few years.

Consider what you can accomplish in the next three years. Layout a 36-month calendar and put in your initial start and completion dates for each objective. You may need to adjust these later, but just use your best judgment. If any of your objectives will take two or more years to complete, include starting points in the plans for your next three years.

Now we get more refined, adding in all of the tasks that need to be done to reach each objective. If you have a larger business or it all just seems overwhelming, break down your objectives into different parts of your organization; e.g. supplies, production, marketing, etc. Consider how you will approach each objective, your strategies, and tactics.

Using our example from last time about retaining our premium shampoo customers, and even expanding our base, the strategy is to offer a discount to existing customers that includes a free shampoo sent to a friend. You’ll need input from your finance people to decide on the discount, and your marketing folks to come with an advertising plan. You’ll also want to make sure that you have enough shampoo ready to ship when those ads get published. Expand your calendar to include each day of each of the next 12 months. Then, add each task to create a step-by-step action plan, with start and end dates.

Work through each objective that needs to start within the next year, considering your strategies and adding tasks to your action plan.

Your plan of action may take longer than you initially thought when you were working in months. That’s ok. Just adjust the end date when all of the steps can be completed. While you want to be ambitious, a plan that is not feasible isn’t helpful.

Complete your plan by adding in the names of who will do each task, as well as any resources needed. If the time or money needed isn’t available, you’ll need to weigh getting those resources against the outcome.

The result should be a reasonable plan that shows who is doing what on any given day to accomplish your shorter-term objectives.

 

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Continued:
Planning Part 1 – Setting Goals and Objectives
Planning Part 2 – Environmental Scanning
Planning Part 3 – Consider Your Customers
Planning Part 4 – Timing Strategies and Tactics
Planning Part 5 – Scenarios

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You’ve set your goal and objectives and looked at the world around you. Now we need to zoom in on your customers. Who are they? What is influencing their lives? And, more importantly, their buying decisions?

How has the pandemic affected them? How has it changed their thinking? Are they older adults, moving into retirement? Are they teens that will be off to college soon? Are they a new homeowner? Where will they be in three to five years?

Think about global influences as well as what’s happening in your region or community, depending on your market. What did your customers move away from over the past year? Perhaps higher priced items? What did they embrace? Are these changes likely to continue? Consider historical influences as well. When the economy tanked in 2008, how did that affect your business? What happened in the years after?

The chances of life as we knew it getting back to “normal” are slim. What can you incorporate into a new normal that will build loyal customers and an expanded base?

Yes, those are a lot of questions but don’t just throw up your hands. You know more than anyone else about your business and your customers, so set aside some time to ponder and make your own predictions.

Now, organize those thoughts beside each of your objectives to start thinking about timing. Here’s an example:

When the economy crashed in 2008, customers avoided a popular but pricey shampoo you sell. Within two years though, most started ordering again. In 2019, that same item was among your most profitable, but in 2020, orders were minimal.

Your objectives include increasing sales and profitability, so although you figure the item will become popular again by 2021, you don’t want to lose any customers this time. What tactics can you use to make sure they all come back? Or even to expand your customers for this item?

How about a deal for your past customers that includes a free shampoo delivered to a friend? Yes, that will cut into your profits for 2020, but remember you are working on a ten-year plan.

Look at each of your objectives along with global and customer predictions. Consider what to do first, last, in the middle.

 

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Continued:
Planning Part 1 – Setting Goals and Objectives
Planning Part 2 – Environmental Scanning
Planning Part 3 – Consider Your Customers
Planning Part 4 – Timing Strategies and Tactics
Planning Part 5 – Scenarios

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In the last article, we talked about setting an end goal and the objectives needed to realize that goal. Before we start creating a plan to achieve those objectives, we need to take a look at the environment in which we do business, and how that could change over the next few years.

While you should look at forecasts for your specific industry, here are a few global predictions from the pundits.

Demonstrating your values

It’s going to be increasingly challenging to maintain neutrality on social issues. Your brand needs to stand for something. Remember those values you listed in your business plan? It’s time to reassess those, modify or confirm them, and then figure out how your company can demonstrate those values in the real lives of your customers. Trust and empathy are two of the characteristics that people will be looking for in the next few years.

Balancing remote vs in-office teamwork

With work from home being the only option for several months, we learned a few things. The first is that employees can be productive without supervision, in fact, may be more productive working off-site. The second though is that creativity and collaboration suffer when team members are isolated. Virtual meetings have their place but are still not the same as people being in the same room. The third is that not everyone wants to stay home ALL of the time. So, what you need to do is figure out how and when to schedule time for team members to get together to generate ideas and solutions to complex problems while allowing time to get work done where each member is most productive.

Consumers are getting even more demanding

Technology has fostered impatience, and the companies who have used technology to offer the ultimate in customer experiences have set the bar for everyone else, including you. It’s not enough to be better than you used to be; you now have to be at least as good as the best out there. Making appointments or reservations online; having items delivered fast; making returns quick and easy – these are the standards everyone expects. Build customer convenience into every touchpoint.  Even with an extra cost, the majority of customers will appreciate it.

Humans still need to be involved in customer relations

Many companies have automated most of the customer experience. Customers can search for products or services on the website; order or make an appointment online; ask questions that are answered by a chatbot; track delivery of their package on their phone. That’s all great, but… There are going to be times when all of that is insufficient to show customers that you really do care about each of them, and that is what you keep saying, right? So, you still need a few humans around who can send an email that fully addresses the issue or make a call to resolve the problem in real-time. Those direct connections turn skeptics into loyal advocates, and that is worth the investment.

Beef up your cybersecurity

We’ve been saying this for years, and unfortunately, we’ll probably still be saying it years from now. Hackers keep security efforts ever-changing and if you’re not one step ahead, you’re one step behind. Security breaches will cost you customers and dollars. (See our article: What a Data Breach Could Soon Cost You.) If you collect any type of information about your customers or clients, put a security review at the top of your list of things to do.

Virtual Services

There’s nothing more convenient than having a face to face meeting without being face to face. If you offer a service that usually requires an in-person visit, look for ways to get it done via video call.

Facilitating Customer Interaction

Cor Hospes, from Amsterdam based Merkjournalisten, predicts that companies are going to opt to host brand discussions and move away from big social platforms. He says this: “They are going to lead their audience to their own content platform – a digital clubhouse where they can build a loyal fan base without the interference and unreliable algorithms of tech companies.” That will take an investment, but is likely not as costly as you may think and is definitely something to consider.

Think about everything that’s happened in the last three or so years. See what others in your industry are saying about the future. Ponder your similarities and differences with competitors. Put that all in your mind-blender, and write down what you think the big influences will be in the next three years.

 

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Continued:
Planning Part 1 – Setting Goals and Objectives
Planning Part 2 – Environmental Scanning
Planning Part 3 – Consider Your Customers
Planning Part 4 – Timing Strategies and Tactics
Planning Part 5 – Scenarios

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Our first series of the year is about planning. After the year that was 2020, that may seem pointless, but it really isn’t. Plans can always be adjusted but if you don’t have any plans, well – you’re just free-floating in a world controlled by others.

So, let’s start with setting goals. People often use the terms “goals” and “objectives” interchangeably. For this exercise, it’s important to make a distinction between the two. Make goals your end game. For most entrepreneurs that will be when you no longer own or manage the company. Maybe your goal is to have a child take over the business. Maybe you want to sell and retire. How about turning the business into a social enterprise? You could provide guidance as a board member while others do the day to day work.

Thinking about your personal goals first will help you determine appropriate business goals.

Let’s say you want to retire in 10 years, selling the company to boost your savings. Your business goal then is to create as much value in the business as you can over the next decade. Do some research. What creates value in a business? Profitability is one factor. An infrastructure that supports profitability is another. Infrastructure includes technology, policies and procedures, perhaps facilities or equipment. Talk to someone who evaluates businesses or a broker. Find out what is important to buyers.

Take some time (days, not months) to think about what you want as the end result. Talk to your significant others, including those in your company. Your partner or employee may be interested in buying the company. Talk to your kids, who may or may not, share your vision. Your goal needs to be specific and feasible; e.g. sell the company in 2031 for $150,000.

Now write it all down. Your end goal, the objectives you need to realize to reach your goal; e.g. profitability at 10% of sales, up to date tech for your online sales and order processing, etc.

It takes a bit of time and effort, but even if you only do this, you’ll have taken a huge step towards succeeding.

 

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Continued:
Planning Part 1 – Setting Goals and Objectives
Planning Part 2 – Environmental Scanning
Planning Part 3 – Consider Your Customers
Planning Part 4 – Timing Strategies and Tactics
Planning Part 5 – Scenarios

 

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We started this year in celebration and we’re ending it in gratitude.

The year 2020 was our 25th anniversary. Back in 1995 when he founded International Internet Advertising Services Inc., Mike had a vision. The years that followed brought twists and turns he could never have imagined, but the vision held strong. Twenty-five years later, Internet Advertising is strong too.

So, we are grateful; to our loyal customers, to the new clients who trusted us in very uncertain times, and to our work team, who did a great job and made each other laugh despite the world around us.

We know that this was a sad year for some and a bad year for others; and we are grateful to all those who worked tirelessly to take care of those who were sick, grieving, or vulnerable, who kept the shelves stocked, and lent a hand when needed.

And so, our Christmas wish is that each of you finds what you need most – a rest, a smile, comfort knowing that there are people who care about and appreciate you.

 

May the spirit of Christmas heal your soul and bring joy to your heart.

 

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Let’s skip to the bottom line, because it’s a shocker: the higher of $25 M or 5% of gross revenue. Yes, folks that is the potential fine for any of several offenses under a new bill currently making its way through the Canadian legislative process. (In second reading at the time of writing.)

Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Navdeep Bains, introduced Bill C-11 earlier this month. Officially called “An Act to enact the Consumer Privacy Protection Act and the Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts,” (whew!) it is intended to put big shark teeth into Canada’s privacy protection laws.

In a nutshell, it enacts the Consumer Privacy Protection Act; enacts the Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act, and amends what will now be called the Electronic Documents Act. To strengthen and ensure consistency with myriad other laws, it also makes related changes to nine other acts. (List below.)

The Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act establishes an administrative body to hear appeals of certain decisions made by the Privacy Commissioner under the Consumer Privacy Protection Act and it allows penalties for the contravention of certain provisions of that Act.

Of note, the tribunal is “not bound by any legal or technical rules of evidence and must deal with all matters as informally and expeditiously as the circumstances and considerations of fairness and natural justice permit.” The hearings and decisions will be public, with few exceptions. The takeaway here is that even if you don’t get a huge fine, your blunder and its consequences will be very public.

A few other highlights:

  • The Act prescribes reporting requirements (to the Commissioner and individuals) for any breach of security safeguards involving personal information under its control if it is reasonable in the circumstances to believe that the breach creates a real risk of significant harm to an individual, and it provides guidance on defining “significant harm.”
  • It requires organizations to maintain a record of every breach of security safeguards involving personal information under its control.
  • It prohibits the deletion of information that is the subject of a request by an individual.
  • It prohibits re-compiling of information to identify an individual.
  • It protects whistleblowers and those who comply with the law against the wishes of an employer or refuse to take a non-compliant action.
  • It allows the Privacy Commissioner to order organizations to:

(a) take measures to comply with the Act;

(b) stop doing something that is in contravention of the Act;

(c) comply with the terms of a compliance agreement that has been entered into by the organization; or

(d) make public any measures taken or proposed to be taken to correct the policies, practices, or procedures that the organization has put in place to fulfill its obligations under the Act.

Here’s the potentially costly bit: every organization that knowingly contravenes key sections of the legislation, an order from the Commissioner, or that obstructs the investigation of a complaint, an inquiry, or an audit can be fined up to the higher of $25 M or 5% of gross revenue.

So, if the only privacy policy you have is the one we put on your website; or if you don’t really know if your company’s data safeguards are being adhered to, or are perhaps insufficient, now is the time to get on it.

Here are links to Canada’s Privacy Act and BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

For those interested, here are the Acts being amended:

  • Access to Information Act
  • Aeronautics Act
  • Canada Evidence Act
  • Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act
  • Competition Act
  • Canada Business Corporations Act
  • Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act
  • Chapter 23 of the Statutes of Canada, 2010
  • Transportation Modernization Act

 

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Advertising has never been more important. Even if your business is top of mind, potential customers may wonder if your services or hours have changed, or if you are even still in business. Those who in the past would have just driven to your office or storefront, are more likely to look online for answers to their questions.

But advertising is expensive, right? No! Advertising is an investment. That’s why we talk about return on investment, or ROI. If the return is higher than the cost, then you are making a profit on your investment.

If the four statements below apply to you, you are likely getting a very good return on your advertising investment. If they don’t, give us a call.

You spend at least 90% of your ad budget in online advertising – Unless you have a very niche target market, you should be spending all of your ad budget online. Digital Marketing will garner the highest return on investment, and you’ll also have much better indicators of that ROI than any other form of advertising. If you have a very narrow market, for example, a specific type of professional, like accountants or first responders, advertising at relevant trade shows or conferences might be worth the expense. However, even these niche markets usually have associations or trade magazines that offer online advertising.

Your website was written by a professional web copywriter – Poorly written websites are penalized by Google. Not only will your organic site ranking be lower, but you may also have to pay more for your search ads. Content, punctuation, grammar, page titles, and more, are all analyzed and used to determine the quality of your website. The higher the quality, the higher the ranking, and the cheaper the advertising.

Your online advertising is managed by a professional – While a management fee may first seem like an additional expense, it will pay off. Ad managers regularly monitor the effectiveness of your ads and make changes as needed to meet the ad’s goal. Because of the dynamic nature of internet content, ads that do well one day, may not perform as well the next. Monitoring and tweaking are necessary. A professional ad manager will also ensure that your ads are specific, in content and platform, to your target audience.

You are active on social media and are using tactics to grow your audience – When we say “you” we mean your business’s social media spokesperson or persona. Regular posts that are meaningful to your customer community and are likely to be shared to grow your followers are a great way to build and increase a loyal customer base. You also then have a ready audience for new product offerings, exclusive discounts, or upcoming sales events.

 

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Updating your website on a regular basis is essential if you want it to continue to do its job. Just like your employees need ongoing training to keep up with new tech and trends, your website needs to keep up with what is going on around it too. Here are five signs that are telling you it’s time for a refresh.

  1. Lack of sales: Your website is the core of all of your marketing efforts. If your sales have plateaued or dropped off, chances are you can get back on a growth track with some web work. Google knows when you update your site, and when you don’t. If it’s been the same for quite a while, Google suspects it is no longer relevant. To stay relevant to search engines, and to your customers, regular updating is really crucial.
  2. Bounce rate: If your analytics are showing that visitors are leaving your site within seconds of arriving there, there is definitely a problem. Some common issues are poor search engine descriptions, slow page loading, or an immediate feeling of mistrust. All of these issues are fixable and trackable; and, these have to be fixed to keep visitors on your site longer, in order to find out what other aspects of the site can be improved.
  3. Ranking: Is your site still showing up on the first page of search results? If not, competitors have made moves to bump you off. A little research will be needed to find out who and how; and, you’ll need to ensure that your target market is clearly defined. Our SEO team will work with you to get back on page one.
  4. Reviews: Your customers seem happy enough, and you even get the occasional email of thanks, BUT, potential customers are only seeing a few bad reviews from three years ago. Current, positive reviews provide a big boost in sending customers your way. You need to set up a “review funnel” to make it easier for customers to give you a positive review, and that will increase the likelihood that they will.
  5. Google Maps: Does your business show up as pin on the Google Map in search results? If not, you are losing a lot of business to the companies who do. You’ll note that Google Reviews show up here too, and the combination of a “map listing” and positive reviews will give a definite boost to your customer inquiries and visits to your website.

Any of these signs is a good reason to give us a call. The return on investment for these types of improvements are often evident within weeks.

 

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I know, I know. Summer is barely over and I’m jumping past Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Remembrance Day. But here’s the thing: if you are in one of the many businesses that rely on Christmas shopping to boost annual revenue, it is definitely time to start planning.

Things are weird right now, so this Christmas is likely to be a little different. First, people are going to be looking for deals – great deals – and financing options or lay away plans could also be more popular than usual. And, since people are not as likely to be getting together, more gifts are going to be sent directly to the recipient. I also suspect that household items and products that are more necessity than fun, could also see higher sales than normal.

The question for you is, what can you offer to take advantage of these changes?

Generally speaking, the volume of sales on a great deal makes up for any reduction in per item profit. Think about what was popular last Christmas, but also consider any recent upticks in particular items. What kind of discount could you offer?

If you don’t usually provide delivery, see what you can arrange for the Christmas season. Could you also provide gift wrapping? Or maybe there are services that you could offer online or via video conference. Also think about what it would take to offer your service in a Covid-safe manner.

Consider the impact that the pandemic has had on people, particularly at-risk populations. Seniors in their own homes, for example, might really appreciate a new paint job in their living room. That’s the kind of gift idea you want to put in people’s heads if you’re a painter.

The other marketing tactic that many businesses don’t think about is teaming up with other companies. The painter, as an example, could team up with a deep cleaning service provider to offer a package deal to completely refresh an area of the home. Who could you partner with?

If you sell higher-priced products and want to offer a layaway plan, you should start advertising soon. Layaways are far less risky than longer term financing, as you can usually collect the full price before the item is turned over. But that means you need to be making those sales well before Christmas.

Christmas items are already in the big box stores, and online retailers will be starting their pitches any day now. So make some time to think about what products or services you could offer, then give us a call.

We’ll help you think about your target markets (the buyers and the end recipients, because people search for “gifts for grandparents,” etc.), recommend where to advertise, and we’ll create a great campaign that shines through the weirdness to boost your sales.

 

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We’ve been working on a new website for a client who sells to professionals who know exactly what they want, as well as to laypeople who only know what they want the product to do for them. It’s a common issue that makes search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) challenging.

Here’s an example of the problem. Let’s say you sell water. When someone asks for water for their steam iron, you think “demineralized” and make the transaction. When someone asks for water for their CPAP machine, you think “distilled.” You’ve done your job by providing your customer with exactly what they need. At the end of the year, you see that 75% of your business is distilled water, and focus your website and marketing on that product. Your sales should go up, but they don’t. Why?

Because you haven’t paid enough attention to what your customers are actually asking for. They asked for water for their CPAP machine and that’s also what they are going to search for. Your larger clients, like the local hospital, are going to continue ordering distilled water from you, but you are going to lose hundreds of potentially new customers by not using “CPAP machine” as a key phrase.

It will take some effort to change your mindset as an expert in whatever it is you sell, but the onus is on you to make note of the exact language your customers use. Even though they will try to remember the technical term, most of them won’t. And, by keeping your own list and tally, you’ll also know which terms are used most frequently.

If you’re a relatively small operation, you can probably keep track with a notebook. If you’re a larger business and have an automated system to process sales, you may be able to use it to track keywords. What matters is that you end up with a list that looks something like this:

Distilled water: 210
Demineralized water: 108
Water for CPAP machine: 220
Special water for CPAP: 81
Water for steam iron: 20
Iron water: 10

A list like this makes our job easier, which translates into savings for you; and, the results of our collective efforts will mean more customers and profits for you.

Now we know that we need to dedicate a page to “water for CPAP machine” and include that term in our SEM campaign. We know that we need to include “special water for CPAP” on that page. And, from the research we’ll do, we’ll know that educating your customers to try to get them to remember “distilled” will NOT be a good strategy, because none of your competitors are marketing to the CPAP users. Now, your return on investment for optimization and marketing is going to be huge.

So, start tracking! And remember, if you know the customers you have, we can find many more just like them.

 

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It’s a crazy, scary world out there right now, and it’s hard to think about others when there’s so much raining down on us. We’re trying to keep our businesses afloat. We don’t know what to do about our kids. We’re worried about older family members. Geeze, we can’t even get through the grocery shopping without finding at least one empty shelf where our favorite items usually are. We’re frustrated. We’re grumpy. And there’s nowhere to run away to. But here’s the thing: most other people are feeling the same way.

Dr. Bonnie Henry is the provincial health officer for the Province of BC. Since televised briefings started, months ago now, Dr. Henry has encouraged us to be kind. That’s great advice for everyone, and important advice for business owners and managers, because being kind pays off in quite a number of ways.

It will make you happier – Being kind to others, even in the smallest of ways, results in an increase in a brain chemical that makes us feel happy. Holding the door for someone with an armful, or letting someone cut in front of you is a small price to pay for a happiness boost!

It will make you healthier – Our brain actually releases a bunch of chemicals when we are kind. Together, they reduce inflammation, pain, anxiety, stress, and even blood pressure. They also increase your immunity and protect the heart.

It has a ripple effect – Those who receive or even witness a kind act also gain physiological benefits and more likely to be kind to others themselves. Kindness is contagious, even when you wear a mask.

It promotes a positive and productive workplace – Acts of kindness make people feel stronger and more energetic. They increase feelings of self-esteem and calmness. That combination of physical and mental well-being means greater productivity.

It sustains cooperative success – Whether it’s built into your character or a learned skill, being kind to others builds sustained relationships, cooperation, and collaboration; all keys to success in business and in life. It’s not the kind of “you owe me one now,” trading of favours though. The acts of kindness must be sincere with no expectation of a future reward.

With so many people feeling out of sorts these days, I think being kind will have even greater rewards. Whether it’s in the office, at your retail shop, or out in the community, take the opportunities that present themselves to do some small kindness for someone else. We all want to stay healthy and happy, so consider those opportunities a gift – to you, to others, to your family, your business and your community.

 

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The COVID-19 pandemic has given online shopping a big boost, and we know that means there’s been a rise in pre-shopping research as well. While we may have thought, and hoped, that this crisis would be short-lived, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, as well as Canada’s top public health officials, are warning otherwise.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said, “People might think that if we get a vaccine then everything goes back to normal the way it was before. That’s not the case… All of the measures we’ve put in place now will still have to continue with the new reality for quite some time.”

The impact of the pandemic has already taken a huge toll on retailers who rely on in-person shopping, but e-commerce is on the rise. eMarketer is now forecasting that online sales will be up 21% in Canada and 18% in the United States. That’s great news if your website is up to the task.

If the products or services that you provide can be delivered without face-to-face contact, you need to make an investment in your website now. Any delay at this point is just giving money away to your competitors.

So, what makes a great online shopping site? Beyond the basics, you need:

Intuitive categories

Think about your target audience and speak to them in terms they use every day. Don’t force them to choose between blouses and shirts, or couplings and fittings. People are even more impatient than usual right now.

Detailed descriptions

Returning items is also more difficult these days, so help out your customers and your bottom line by clearly and precisely describing each product or service. Remember that colours look different on different devices, so “blue” isn’t enough. Include as many descriptors as you can: dimensions, thickness, material, etc. For services, tell visitors the intended outcome; e.g. A Representation Agreement allows the named representative to make personal care and health care decisions on behalf of the signatory.

Prices

Pricing is one of the most critical decision-making criteria for shoppers of any product or service. The old excuse about not wanting to let competitors know what you charge isn’t valid. Believe me, they already know. So help your customers make an informed decision before they leave your site and never return.

Purchasing options

Simplicity is key here, but give it some thought. Obviously, a product needs to get into the hands of the customer, so they either have to pick it up or have it delivered, but there are still options. Can you offer curbside pickup? Perhaps you could if you had a cordless POS unit. So, get one. Can you offer a low cost vs fast home delivery option? Great. For services, it’s a bit trickier but ponder on it. What options are there for signing a will?

It’s time to get creative folks! The pandemic has accelerated the use of all sorts of technologies, and the world is never going to be the same. Give us a call to get your business ready to do business in a new world.

 

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Be aware

Data breaches that expose millions of records, like the Equifax theft in 2017, get a lot of attention. Consumers feel betrayed and are outraged that their personal information was not better protected. Unfortunately, these newsworthy events mask a more insidious problem – the personal information we give away every day, unknowingly. Little tidbits, here and there, are collected, traded, aggregated, analyzed, sold, and used in ways we can hardly imagine.

Currently, we have little control over how this happens, but as awareness grows, so will the pressure on brands and legislators to create more transparency and to facilitate informed decision-making by the person whose information is being collected.

Here is just a peek into how your information can be gleaned and used.

Social Media

Social media provides a wealth of insight into personal characteristics. First, most people provide their account information truthfully: name, date of birth, place of residence, etc., so all of the data generated about them is connected to a real person. That data includes the results of collecting and analyzing every action you take. What posts did you like or respond to? What keywords, like “garden,” are included in your posts? What are the ages, races, locations of your “friends?” Have you been talking about buying a new home or car? Have you clicked on an ad for online counselling? How often do you win Words with Friends? That’s a measure of education and intelligence, and an indicator for income – but income will be confirmed when aggregated with other information about you.

Online Tools

You’re wondering if you should buy a house and what you can afford. Well, there’s an easy way to do that – the online mortgage calculator. And that income amount you enter is now tied to your IP address, which can then be tied to your name via Facebook data. Income confirmed.

Search Engines and Browsers

Analytics are not just for web developers and advertisers. You are also being analyzed by the search terms you enter, the sites and ad links you click on, the time, and the day of the week you’re doing most of your searching and browsing. Tidbits. But that search on “symptoms of depression” can now be tied to your clicking on the ad for online counselling. And then, …

Services

Your mom thinks you have an Indigenous great-great-grandmother, and you think it would be cool to get your DNA tested. That turns out not to be true, but you are 10% Asian. Interesting! Even more interested than you are is the pharmaceutical company that just bought your DNA and is analyzing it along with your generated profile indicating an issue with depression.

And on it goes

Facebook launched a dating app that collects a lot more very personal information about its users. Voice-controlled devices have the ability to listen in on your conversations. Apps preloaded on your phone track your location. Wearables like Fitbit (which by the way is now owned by Google) and the Apple Watch collect health information about you.

The big data breaches remind us about what’s out there and how vulnerably our information is to hackers. But we need to also be reminded about what we are giving away, and put more pressure on those who are collecting our information, as well as those who are purchasing it. Technology is a wonderful tool that is used in many positive ways. For that to continue, we need transparency to build trust.

 

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We end our celebration of the past 25 years in business with our vision for the future.

The year 2020 turned out to be a pivotal one in history. The worldwide protests against discrimination and the devastation that resulted from a lack of a global strategy to deal with COVID 19 were the impetus for both new policy and new technology.

The vast majority of employees around the world no longer congregate at a central location. Those who are comfortable and productive working from home, do so. Others go to shared office locations near their homes, significantly reducing the energy used for transportation. To facilitate this, governments got involved to ensure reliable, high speed, internet services at greatly reduced rates. New laws also required Internet Service Providers to take an active role in reducing scams and spam by reviewing complaints and removing service from known offenders.

Holographic technology was greatly advanced, with meetings occurring via projection and VR glasses, seemingly putting everyone around the same table.

Social media platforms that were unable to moderate, or actually promoted misinformation, discrimination and hate speech, floundered, then failed. Platforms that allowed for decentralized identity (protecting personal info) and community based reputation ranking of content creators became popular. Individuals were then able to moderate and approve messages based on community reputation score as well as content and settings in their decentralized identity systems. Many online communities were created around a single common interest.

Brands were forced to make outright statements about their values and how they promote and sustain action that supports those values. Brand loyalty communities became popular and resulted in customers volunteering their time to do good works funded by the brand. This changed marketing and advertising a great deal, with outgoing messaging focusing first on a cause, and only second on a product or service.

CCOs – Chief Communication Officers – became the second-highest-ranking executives in most companies. For years now, they have posted weekly, if not daily, bulletins to the front pages of their websites, providing updates on their progress as companies and advocates for change.

Which brings us to news of our team members from 2020. Most of those CCO updates are done with a content management system developed by James. Our problem-solving wizard developed the first website using blockchain technology, which made it impossible to hack, and created a very simple content management system for text editing. James retired at the age of 55, bought a sailboat with his accumulated bitcoin, and spends his time traveling among the world’s most beautiful beaches.

Joanne was actually the first to retire from the team though. She became a professional poker player for a few years, and now spends summers in both Canada and Australia, avoiding winter altogether.

Andrew left the team when his digital art became a must-have acquisition for the rich and famous. Like most art in the home nowadays, it is displayed on mounted screens and can be switched to a different image with a simple voice command.

Paul began writing music again and retired when one of his songs went platinum. He moved to BC to enjoy the milder weather.

Mike and Angela found a house on an even higher mountain than they used to live, and enjoy life completely off the grid. Mike goes into the office every once in a while to check on his bitcoin.

Nick and Keara have been very successfully running the business for several years now. They still argue about everything initially, but their debates end in agreement on truly amazing strategies to the benefit of their many happy clients.

Thank you to all of our clients for your continuing support. You make us strive for excellence every single day.

 

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Continued:
The Story of Us 1980s
The Story of Us 1991-1995
The Story of Us 1996-1999
The Story of Us 2000
The Story of Us Early 2000s
The Story of Us – More on the Early 2000s
The story of Us – mid-2000s
The Story of Us – The Interlude
The Story of Us – 2007-2015
The Story of Us – The last five years
The Story of Us – 2045

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Technology innovation has shown no evidence of slowing down in the recent past. The Apple Watch, released in 2015, was just the beginning of wearable tech, which continues to be integrated into eyeglasses, clothing, and no doubt other things.

The “internet of things” now includes coffee pots, light switches, and home appliances, and can be controlled with the assistance of a smart speaker, with an assistant that will also write texts, make calls, schedule appointments, and order supplies for you.

Shared digital workspaces have bloomed, going far beyond shared files, facilitating production for remote teams; and blockchain technology promises to not only bring us cryptocurrency, but also a new method of sharing all types of information.

Until 2009, our core team members all worked in the office. But by 2016, James had moved to Vancouver Island and Joanne had moved to Kelowna.

Weekly team meetings were now held via video conference. Joanne moved to the Okanagan to help out her aging parents, who didn’t quite understand the “Do not disturb” sign on the door to her “office” in the garage. Her dad made quite an entrance on one of those video calls, wearing only his underpants.

Our team also grew with the addition of three members who quickly adapted to the crazy work family. Mike’s daughter Keara was the first. She’d never really planned to join the company, but a year after graduating high school and getting pretty weary of life at Walmart, Dad offered her an opportunity. By virtue of birth year, she was already a social media wizard and her first job was to keep our business posts up to date. But when she started taking Google’s online advertising classes, we realized she had inherited her father’s aptitude for digital marketing.

Paul joined the team a year after moving to Calgary. Mike was on the hunt for a new web designer. In Paul’s words: Mike phoned me up saying that he had seen my work. I was flattered and straight away looked up IIAS. I saw that they had done some incredible work and when he offered me a job, it took me all of 30 seconds to respond and say “Yes.” I have enjoyed working with this crew, especially the team meetings where I discovered that they were slightly more crazy then I am! (Well a lot more.)

With three years on the team, Nick is the most recent member. By 2016, he had learned a great deal about digital marketing and opened his own company – Nicholas Man SEO. He managed to get his own website into the number one position for “Abbotsford SEO,” but also kept seeing iias.ca in the top ranking sites.

One of the many business books that Nick read said that 70% of billionaires have business partners. Nick says, “That hit home for me because I was thinking even Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Warren Buffet have business partners and I’m nowhere near as smart as they are.” Nick also had a business prospect who spoke highly of Mike. The two thoughts merged. As Nick tells the rest of the story…

I invited Mike out for coffee and we really connected. Mike seemed genuine and nice, with some amazing business experience. But I didn’t quite know what I wanted at that time, so it was just a good coffee meeting and we didn’t talk for another couple of months. But it stayed in the back of my mind and I remember finally picking up the phone and calling Mike again.

I remember saying something along the lines of “Hey, I know this may sound crazy but I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think we should work together. We have complementary personalities and skills that we could put together and grow a business exponentially larger than if we decided to build separately. I know this is random but I think it’s an idea worth pursuing. I’ll give you the weekend to think about it and then I’ll call you back on Monday and if you like the idea we can sit down and go from there.”

So I called on Monday and we set up a time to meet. At the meeting I remember Mike saying “Two heads on one issue is better than one” and I thought, yes, that’s totally right. So I was on the team. Actually, we started off with a three month probation period, just in case one of us was actually crazy… but it turns out we were both crazy, so we got along just fine.

Turn out crazy is a good thing when you’re in a business like ours!

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Continued:
The Story of Us 1980s
The Story of Us 1991-1995
The Story of Us 1996-1999
The Story of Us 2000
The Story of Us Early 2000s
The Story of Us – More on the Early 2000s
The story of Us – mid-2000s
The Story of Us – The Interlude
The Story of Us – 2007-2015
The Story of Us – The last five years
The Story of Us – 2045

 

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In case you’re wondering about our story-telling, we’re celebrating our 25th year in business! To commemorate, we’re recounting the memorable moments in our history, how our team came together, and the technology changes that shaped our world.

Last time, we told you about “the interlude” – our foray into the travel industry that didn’t survive the economic crash of 2008. While Mike still owned the agency, after the crash, we had a very clear vision – get back to the future.

Some significant events happened in tech during the interlude. Perhaps the biggest of the big was Steve Jobs’ unveiling of the iPhone in 2007. As a cell phone, it was… well, it worked. BUT, it could also do so many other amazing things! Joanne remembers being at a party when one of the guests brought his iPhone out and started showing videos. WHAT?? WOW!! It was the beginning of the mobile revolution.

2010 saw the launch of the iPad, IBM’s Watson beating Ken Jennings on Jeopardy, and the startup of Instagram. Facebook was entrenched as the most used social media platform though, and that wasn’t about to change. So, refocusing on web development and internet advertising, we changed our logo and built a new website.

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Mike hired Andrew, and the former teacher taught us all a few new tricks. He convinced Mike to try Joomla, which turned out to be a very good thing. Custom coding had become too costly an option for many of our clients – some of whom were just getting their first web sites and still weren’t entirely convinced there would be a return on investment. And, as Joomla progressed, it became possible to modify the basic template into a customized site anyway, saving hours of work.

The bad news for Andrew, was that he also had to teach Joanne how to enter her copy into the Joomla sites – a task that he had to repeat endlessly, but he did so with great patience.

With Mike and Angela’s children now teenagers in high school and a void at our front desk, Angela joined the team as office manager.

Paul the first was still working with us then, but the new Paul’s journey to us had already begun. His brother moved to Calgary in 2010, and Paul and his family, which now included baby Finley, came for a visit in 2011. Shortly after that, they decided to move themselves. Paul was now working as a web developer and when he learned that he could continue doing contract work for the same UK company after moving to Canada, the plan was set.

Nick was still struggling with decisions between getting the education his parents believed was necessary and his innate entrepreneurial spirit. He studied engineering at the University of British Columbia, started a painting business, and would soon find his niche in digital marketing.

Continued:
The Story of Us 1980s
The Story of Us 1991-1995
The Story of Us 1996-1999
The Story of Us 2000
The Story of Us Early 2000s
The Story of Us – More on the Early 2000s
The story of Us – mid-2000s
The Story of Us – The Interlude
The Story of Us – 2007-2015
The Story of Us – The last five years
The Story of Us – 2045

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The interlude began in 2006. With our assistance, Ambassador Travel grew from a small local business into a multi-million dollar agency and our largest client. So when the owners decided to retire, Mike bought the company.

The Internet Advertising team moved into the agency’s offices in downtown Abbotsford. The front office was home to 30 very busy travel agents. The phones rang constantly, and would-be travelers stopped by frequently.

The web team occupied the back office, and that’s really where the magic happened. The most significant work was the building of our own booking engines. While others existed, their conversion rates were pretty low. Ours were better. So much so, that in addition to marketing and selling for Ambassador Travel, we were also selling – and collecting commissions – for Air North, Air Canada, WestJet, Can Jet, Harmony, and many of the cruise lines. We also sold travel insurance, and built our own hotel booking system.

Everyone was kept incredibly busy. The web team spent much of their time on agency work, but were also still building and maintaining websites, and marketing for other clients.

Niche marketing was also key to Mike’s sales strategy. We built separate websites for golfing packages, a variety of popular vacation destinations, corporate travel, package deals, and more, all with SEO and SEM. We also created customer relationship management systems, along with email bulletins that went out weekly. In Mike’s words, “We had crazy success,” for a while, that is.

In April 2007, the sub-prime mortgage issue hit the media. The next year saw a slow, but steady decline in the U.S. economy, as the dominos of the financial crisis started to fall. At first, this didn’t have much of an impact on travel in Canada, but by the fall, the major airlines started looking at their revenues and decided they could make more money by paying less in commissions to agencies like Ambassador. Since we were making more in commissions than just about anyone else, we were their first target. A round of re-negotiations ensued, but we were still doing okay.

Then came September 2008. Financial institutions started to fail. On September 15th, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and it was as if someone turned off the electricity at our office. The phones stopped ringing. Emails from the booking engines stopped coming. Fewer people walked through the door. Full stop. And the commissions owed to us, didn’t arrive because airlines were going bankrupt.

By 2015 it became apparent that there was no recovery scenario for the travel agency. It was time to get back to our roots.

Continued:
The Story of Us 1980s
The Story of Us 1991-1995
The Story of Us 1996-1999
The Story of Us 2000
The Story of Us Early 2000s
The Story of Us – More on the Early 2000s
The story of Us – mid-2000s
The Story of Us – The Interlude
The Story of Us – 2007-2015
The Story of Us – The last five years
The Story of Us – 2045

 

 

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As a distraction from more news about “you know what,” we’re continuing our journey down memory lane. The mid-2000s brought about big changes in how the world socialized from a distance (but it had nothing to do with “that”).

In 2004, with the number of internet users approaching one billion, we saw the launch of Facebook. Followed in 2005, by YouTube, and Twitter in 2006. All became popular fairly quickly, and the advertising value of these platforms became the debate of the century.

Two other significant events again changed the internet technology landscape. In 2005, the launch of Joomla found the sweet spot between templated and custom-built websites. Up to that point, the Internet Advertising team had tested some templates, but found that it was faster, and produced a better result, to hand code. (In fact, it wasn’t until 2008, that Andrew convinced Mike to try Joomla.)

Joanne happened to be working downstairs for the office’s building owner. After a recommendation from him, Mike hired Joanne to develop a presentation about the business. That was in 2004, making her now the third longest-serving member of the team.

Still a musician in London, Paul had his first child in 2005. His interest in websites was just beginning and he took a course in Dreamweaver.

The office was a busy place and starting to focus on the travel industry. In addition to marketing for the local Ambassador Travel company, Mike brought in Air North as a new client. Three years post-9/11, people were traveling again, and Mike’s combination of advertising strategies was paying off big time for his clients. So much so, that when the owners of Ambassador mentioned that they wanted to retire soon, Mike offered to buy the business. In Angela’s words, “I remember we went into this with so much optimism, and it turned out to be the worst decision we have ever made.” Sometimes, you get too good at what you do. That story next time.

Continued:
The Story of Us 1980s
The Story of Us 1991-1995
The Story of Us 1996-1999
The Story of Us 2000
The Story of Us Early 2000s
The Story of Us – More on the Early 2000s
The story of Us – mid-2000s
The Story of Us – The Interlude
The Story of Us – 2007-2015
The Story of Us – The last five years
The Story of Us – 2045

 

 

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Now gaining a reputation for internet advertising, shortly after 9/11 a local travel agency sought Mike out. No one wanted to travel and they were hurting. Always up for a challenge, Mike took them on. His strategy was pretty interesting – particularly since this happened nearly a decade ago.

Knowing that the need and desire to travel would eventually outweigh fears of terrorism, Mike’s strategy was a combination of several key factors. One was to separate “travel” into motivation-driven categories – golf trips, adventures, destination weddings – and market them separately. One was to make the on-line booking process simple, while still making contact with a travel agent readily available. A third was to create more interest in vacations using direct email.

The strategy was incredibly successful. The travel agency morphed from a small community business into a North American enterprise earning millions in commissions.

In 2002, the office moved again to a much larger space above a custom clothing and ad speciality shop. There were more than 10 team members now, and after seven years of the steepest learning curve ever, James needed a break. He returned about a year later, just in time for the release of DotNetNuke and WordPress. James realized that learning and innovation were going to be constants in this biz; and he was one of the best at figuring things out, so onward and upward!

Angela and Mike bought their first home, but Mike wasn’t there much. Angela homeschooled Jordan and Keara.

Catching up with the rest of the team that we hadn’t met yet…

Paul O’Neal was still in the UK, working for British Telecom and planning his wedding.

Nick was in elementary school, and moved with his family from Aurora, Ontario to Abbotsford, BC. He remembers his Chinese parents insisting that the learn how to do math with an abacus, study piano, and improve his knowledge of their traditional language.

Andrew was managing his own media company, developing games and websites, while also instructing at local colleges and universities.

Joanne had left her government job and was working as a management consultant, but starting to realize that what every business client really wanted was more customers.

Oh, yes – the FBI. Well… As mentioned earlier, Paul Nicholson was a fabulous animator, and virtual worlds like Second Life were a natural playground for his talents. Businesses started popping up in Second Life and it was becoming a real-world sales platform with transferable dollars. Paul and Mike had a “great” idea – a Second Life casino!!! (Ya, no.) They built it. People came. Mike got a call from the FBI to inform him, emphatically, that his casino was illegal. Take it down or face the consequences. Dang.

Continued:
The Story of Us 1980s
The Story of Us 1991-1995
The Story of Us 1996-1999
The Story of Us 2000
The Story of Us Early 2000s
The Story of Us – More on the Early 2000s
The story of Us – mid-2000s
The Story of Us – The Interlude
The Story of Us – 2007-2015
The Story of Us – The last five years
The Story of Us – 2045

 

 

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